1989's Strangest Adverts

The eighties and advertising. They went together like an overlong Spitting Image sketch about blokes in Armani suits shovelling 'sherbet' up their noses.

But by the end of the decade, the writing was on the wall for the writing on the wall, and the 'suits' took the opportunity to let their hair down and indulge in a bit of lateral surrealism. How else can you explain the sudden abundance in late 1989 of quite frankly inexplicable (not to mention spectacularly unsuccessful) small screen campaigns that the sort of people who 'did lunch' would never have countenanced even just a year earlier? Adverts like, for example...

Seemingly resistant to all attempts at 'rebranding', Cadbury's (as was) Dairy Box had always been the poor relation of box-sized chocolate assortments, seldom ever bought except by those rummaging around those odd shelves in newsagents' in search of last-minute presents, and seemingly composed of all those chocolates only otherwise seen when superior boxes had to resort to including that slip stating 'occasionally it may be necessary to replace a sweet with one of equally high quality'. Late in 1989, however, someone made a brave attempt at boosting sales with a television campaign, eschewing the exotic thrills and spills associated with Milk Tray and Turkish Delight in favour of a brief generic glimpse of 'romantic' imagery fading into a close-up of the box itself, overlaid with a single line excerpt from Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby, and nothing else. Doubtless it all cost less to make than an actual box of Dairy Box cost to buy.

It can't exactly have been easy thinking up ways to flog stereo televisions on the basis that stereo transmissions would be coming soon but not just yet, which perhaps explains the exceptional oddness of this Toshiba offering. For some reason, they decided that the ideal marketing gambit would be roping in Vivian Stanshall to record a new version of Terry Keeps His Clips On -hardly an instantly recognisable hum-along chart smash - reworded to proclaim "Stereo will be great, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, but you'll just have to wait, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, Nicam Stereo, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, it's digital don't you know... you don't want hisses and fuzzy-wuzzies crawling up your ears... every note you hear, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, will sound so jolly clear, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA". This was accompanied by a cartoon man with a television head, turning into the iconic 'cor, telly!' likes of David Bellamy and Brains from Thunderbirds, a programme which it must be pointed out was made entirely in mono.

Access, for the benefit of those who have no memory of life before Chip And Pin, was a sort of credit card that designated itself 'Your Flexible Friend', and had previously been best known through a long-running animated campaign in which Access was seen to constantly chide 'Money' (a shapeless blue pound sign) for being unable to afford consumer items it did not have the requisite funds to purchase. At the end of the eighties this was replaced by a new series of ads in which comical 'miming' types found themselves in hilarious cash-depleted situations to the tune of Louis Jordan's Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby? (example: "my restaurant bill caused frustration, I couldn't pay for my crustacean, flexibility, mon plastique ici, does you does or does you don't take Access?"), with 'air piano' provided by animated inanimate objects.

In a belated attempt to cash in on the 'If You See Sid, Tell Him' British Gas ads, Danepak's great idea for promoting their frozen wares as the nineties loomed was with an unfolding mystery that ended up never unfolding, concerning one 'Herbert The Turbot'. The initial ads featured extremely short clips of 'salt of the Earth' types being interviewed about some unseen Kray Twins-type figure who was always good to his mother and that, but who was presumably also wanted for questioning in connection with the loveable roguish murder of Jack 'The Hat' Birdseye. As if to reinforce the overall 'gentleman's thuggish bastard' comedy-menacing tone of the ads, they concluded with 'Herbert The Turbot' being said in a 'comedy' sub-Geordie voice. Thankfully, it never progressed any further than those initial ads.

Sadly not on YouTube, and similarly doomed to failure after one outing, was McVities' high concept campaign to push the bafflingly over-eulogised biscuit ever The Hobnob, capitalising on its thoroughly unwarranted cult status with a dash of vogueish proto-Mr Bean 'comedy of haplessness'. The inaugural ad presented the tale of some unasumming spectacled bloke who failed his driving test by sounding the horn after waiting twenty minutes for the examiner to appear, only to be told that he had broken the Highway Code by doing so. This was neither funny nor strictly logistically accurate, but the narrator still saw fit to award him The Order Of The McVitie's HobNob, which appeared to be a biscuit attached to a medal ribbon, mounted on a silk cushion. Doubtless there were grand plans for some sort of multimedia experience with real life eater-nominated awards, but pleasingly after just one advert it failed just as spectacularly as that bloke failed his driving test.

Resembling nothing less than Blue Remembered Hills gone berzerk on exposure to 'E Numbers, here Golden Wonder were presumably attempting to cash in on the popularity of Walker's Crisps' vastly superior 'Tank' adverts by replacing the comedy schoolboys with fully grown men dressed as comedy schoolboys, notably one played by Roger Walker (in a sort of fame vacuum between being the Roger in 'Rod, Jane &' on Rainbow and Bunny Charlson on Eldorado), who bombed around a schoolroom set intent on swapping a ball of string for a bag of treasured potato snacks.

And finally, it's back to Toshiba for some twaddle with a not-at-all fetishised Japanese factory girl singing a Wartime Morale-raiser-adapted ditty about how she who makes the thing that holds the oil that turns the spring that makes the thingummybob etc etc whilst a sort of panto Anthony Ainley (so, Anthony Ainley then) camps it up on multiple televisions in the background. Yes, your technology was very progressive. But only your technology. But what's unbelievable about that, Tank?

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more about stuff you just don't see on television any more in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.